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Kids' Book Club: Winnie-The-Pooh

09/05/2012 17:50 | Updated 22 May 2015

It seems only right to start a regular series on classic children's books with the ultimate children's book of all time, Winnie-the-Pooh, and, of course, its sequel, The House at Pooh Corner.

The books, published in the 1920s, may have become Disneyfied, and others have tried to write more Winnie-the-Pooh tales, but when you know and love the original stories, nothing else will do.

Pooh is not Pooh when it is not illustrated by E.H. Shepherd, who captured with such subtle detail the wintry English woods, and the earnest expressions of each character, from Eeyore floating with solemn indignation down the river, four hooves rigid in the air, to Pooh and Piglet dancing off merrily, paw in paw.

And only A.A. Milne's writing has the perfectly judged, very British wit, and the gentleness, that make his books classics.

To many, these books are the emblem of childhood. They were the first books I chose to give my son. As it turned out, he was in hospital for the first five months of his life, and so my husband, my mother and I ended up reading them aloud to him as he lay in an incubator.

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I was sure my son, tiny as he was, could appreciate the oh-so-reassuring tone of the stories. And as I rediscovered the books, my own childhood came back to me.

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The games of poohsticks we used to play on the bridge. The map of the Hundred Acre Wood I loved to trace with my fingers. The myths of the Heffalumps and the Woozles whose footsteps follow you around the tree in the snow, and Pooh's rhymes, like 'Cottleston Pie'.

And I remembered how, at the start, it's made clear that Pooh is Milne's son Christopher Robin's teddy bear, and at the end, in an enchanted place, Christopher Robin begs Pooh to understand if in adulthood he forgets him.

As with the best children's books, these two are just as enjoyable for adults since they're full of sophisticated human observation. Every character in the world can be found in Winnie-the-Pooh and Pooh Corner - whether you're a know-all Owl, an irrepressibly bouncy Tigger, a hard-done-by Eeyore, a busy Rabbit, or a timid Piglet. Or, of course, poor old modest Pooh, who believes he is a bear of little brain, but who is actually really very clever - if only Owl and Rabbit would condescend to notice.

As a child, I thought I was a pure Tigger - now, as a mother, it turns out I feel more like a cross between Rabbit and Eeyore. Funnily, I don't identify with Kanga - she's too much of an intimidating uber-mother.

It's inspiring that the characters were based on Christopher Robin's real stuffed toys (today those which survive are on display in a branch of the New York City Public Library). And it's sad that apparently Alan Alexander Milne, who died in 1956 and whose son Christopher died in 1996, never appreciated being known best for his children's writing - he would have preferred to be acclaimed for his plays for adults.

I can almost hear my mother's voice reading Pooh aloud as she did to me and my friends around the age of eight. She had a particularly good Eeyore voice.

My son got healthier and eventually got to come home, and my mother still tells him the story of when Pooh ate so much 'hunny' he got stuck in Rabbit's burrow and Rabbit hung his washing off Pooh's 'south end' (his hind paws), till all his friends and relations came to pull Pooh out with a loud 'pop'. And throughout the story my son listens agog, just as I once did.

Because we never really forget about Winnie-the-Pooh. As The House at Pooh Corner ends: 'in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.'

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